crossing over, in between

by Mar Marriott

crossing over, in between: an interview

Local artist Mar Marriott’s first solo exhibition, crossing over, in between borrows from the two distinct queer aesthetic folds of the Kerns Township and surrounding area where they grew up, and Toronto where they currently live. The affective charge of the combined paintings finds balance in the otherwise turbulent and jarring navigation between this region and Toronto. Prior to mounting the exhibition in the coop, all pieces were documented in intimate spaces bearing strong significance in Mar’s upbringing here: an abandoned canoe manufacturing facility, the Kerns Public School ice rink, a stack of hay bales, and their family’s school bus turned mobile hunt camp. 

Following the exhibition installation, Mar Marriott answered written questions in an interview with Alexander Rondeau, a queer curator from Kerns Township and BPC gallery manager. Their conversation reads as follows:

Alexander Rondeau: When we met up to install your show, you were walking along the shoulder of Dairy Lane, a dirt road in the township of Tomstown; I pulled over, you hopped in the box of my pickup truck and we drove back to your home in the woods. I feel like this really set the tone for the evening as we installed your exhibition: did you ever imagine your first solo show taking place in Kerns Township?

Mar Marriott: That was such a nice afternoon! I really didn’t expect this, honestly. When I first came to Toronto I had a really narrow view on what my art could do and where it could be, and it never involved the idea of a space like BPC. It probably wasn’t until the Pete’s Dam exhibition, An Upstream Flow in a Downstream Current*, that I realized how powerful it would be to focus more attention on the Temiskaming Shores area. 

AR: You and I have previously spoken at length about our shared experience of growing up queer in Kerns, and our shared path of leaving the rural North to pursue academic training at art schools in Toronto. What strikes me most is our shared re-remembering of our youth; at the time, queerness — which I don’t think either of us understood what queerness meant at this age — seemed categorically removed, or elsewhere, or missing, but, as we look back, we each find our rural upbringing to have many faint queer glimmers. Your exhibition crossing over, in between conjures much of this process of re-remembering and the anachronisms of queerness in the rural North through intimate vignettes: how does re-remembering figure in the continued praxis of these pieces as the starting point of this series?

MM: Some of the conversations that we’ve had about our shared experiences have been really reconciling for me, and for what I remember as being really lonely. I think that’s where re-remembering stands in relation to my work and this show, because I’m still trying to investigate the feelings of queerness that started speaking to me when I still didn’t have a language to understand it. When I try to remember what queerness felt like, it felt like something I couldn’t see but only imagine or experience it second hand like in the media. It was always something strange, jarring, it interrupted what was (in the context of the limited social fabric of rural Ontario), and gave faint glitters of what was possible. When I was in the fifth grade at Kerns Public School, this boy in my class told me his uncle found his cousin “fooling around” with another boy in their barn. So suddenly, from that moment, every barn was different, every old shed and house had this possibility to contain a quality that I couldn’t see but was compelled by the possibility of. I wanted the works to contain qualities that could access a similar feeling of potentiality.

AR: What was it like to return to Kerns Public School to install these works? Did the work come full-circle here?

MM: It was full circle in the sense that it marked the beginning of where things started, yes. in terms of queerness and also in terms of when I started making art. There was a group of older students when I was in grade five or six that were really into anime and manga that I really looked up to. I would follow them around at recess and borrow their manga and watch them draw pictures. Retrospectively, this is its own strange moment; I wouldn’t have ever expected that culture to be found in the middle of a farming community school. This one girl named Brooklyn drew these incredible dragons that I copied over and over. If you can picture the way that middle school classrooms often have a frieze of art projects in each room, there was one room in specific that she had a dragon drawing that I remember being so mesmerized by. I would draw pictures and show her, and she would tell me if they were good or not. This is when I first started trying to make my own characters and practice making art. I used to make collaborative comics with my then best friend, we would fold them into booklets so they could be read by our friends. I also had developed my first crushes here, one classmate I had snuck a letter into his report card folder on the last day of school asking them if they wanted to be friends and hangout that summer. Our teacher told me at the end of the day in passing: “I found that letter you put in [name]’s report card, it’s cute.” I never heard from him again or spoke to him though, even throughout high school. crossing over, in between is full circle for me in general because I’m returning to these areas with a new language, the ability to interject all my culminating experiences since my time there, back into the space.

AR: If you’re comfortable doing so, can you briefly share some of the context to the places you chose to put the works in-situ? Your earlier anecdote of the “fooling around” in the shed story evolved into a reading of the shed as a site of queer potentiality -- are all the in-situ locales equally folds of queer potentiality for you?

MM: I’m not sure if they’re equal or not. The four sites we installed the work in, my family’s hunting bus, the hay bales across from my parent’s property, the abandoned canoe factory in Thornloe, and Kerns Public School, are all places steeped in the rituals of normative cultural practices in the North. All places, even the most random and mundane places, are instilled with potential for intervention. There is a varying degree of personal connectedness to them for me: the canoe factory I had only been to a couple of times as a kid to smoke cigarettes, the bales of hay was a spur of the moment decision, but all of them make up the social fabric of our community and it’s labour, it’s perception of gender, sexuality, etc. and that’s what I think generates the dialogue between my work and the space.

AR: crossing over, in between includes signs and signifiers that clearly illustrate both queer and rural sensibilities, yet the location of these pieces remains indistinct — it’s not readily apparent if these images are from moments that have take place in Toronto, or in the Kerns Township area. In many ways, indistinction is the driving force of crossing over, in between paralleling queerness’ inherent slippery, indefinability. I know that for both of us, going back and forth between Kerns and Toronto can be a jarring, knee-jerk experience to embody creating a dependence upon queerness’ mutability to adapt as we adjust to the different Northern and Southern versions of our queer selves. Your paintings, though, blur these separate lived experiences as they overlap in your psyche: how did you navigate the coexistence of these respective worlds while making this work?

MM: I feel like physically moving back and forth from one social-cultural setting to another, my experiences begin to kind of infect each other and break down the lines of urban/rural that I grew up feeling so entrapped within (on the rural side, wanting to cross over). Those lines have become very blurred for me, and I find that exciting to work from, like a third dimension that opens where the urban and the rural cross. I have been interested in barn quilt designs for a couple years now, and it’s become central to some of my work, for example in Two Suns from 2020, or the Poppers Quilt we used for the flyer of this show. When I was at Kerns Public School, I remember the entire school got together to paint this huge barn quilt that is now on the side of the school, it was a really sweet memory. When I was in Toronto years later, I kept thinking about doing a mural on the side of a large apartment building of a huge barn quilt design, I thought it would be a playful way of slightly disrupting how someone might look at an urban landscape through the context of a crop field or farm, which is what a quilt typically looks over. So similarly in Pig Sweat, I was thinking about the feeling that would come from recognizing a very rural symbol like the Browning logo in a setting such as a club next to poppers and acrylic nails. Even when I meet someone in Toronto that knows about Temagami or Temiskaming Shores it feels very jarring, so I wanted to push that idea with some of the works.  

AR: Last question. There’s a distinct aesthetic shift here from your previous work towards an almost ghoulish and at times even phantasmagoric visual lexicon within crossing over, in between: how did you develop this new aesthetic language and how is it important in the meaning-making of these pieces?

MM: I think that it’s been in development ever since I started painting, I’ve always been interested in the qualities of opaque and transparent paints when they’re used together. Translucency, which already has a somewhat spectral connotation, is something I’m trying to figure out in my work. The way I paint mostly concerns trying to find a balance between the very first layers and the very last, to allow all of them to come through in certain moments, like a record of the process from start to finish. I do a lot of wiping away, a lot of trying to scrub out previous layers or drawings, and I don’t want to cover all those moments with opaque paint because to me it’s where I’m the most engaged with my work. I want to leave room for them to kind of dissipate out towards the edges like they’re fading away. I’m not interested in painting something that looks like a finished product, I think that paintings need to fail in certain moments, not make total sense, not be resolved completely. I think a lot of ideas surrounding the haunted or spiritual also centre around the idea of abandonment, or incompleteness. Paint and paintings are like any other material thing, they will inevitably become undone, so maybe this is where the imagery is coming from.

Artist bio: Mar Marriott is a visual artist from so-called "Temiskaming Shores, Ontario". They are currently interested in pop–culture aesthetics, queer and trans storytelling, and barn quilts.

*An Upstream Flow in a Downstream Current was a survey exhibition in Pete’s Dam Park (about 20 minutes away from BPC) curated by Alexander Rondeau in 2018. The exhibition, which unfolded throughout the hiking trails in the woods, brought together 15 artists (including Mar Marriott) from across so-called “Ontario” critically responding to issues of identity and the landscape in the rural North. Central thematics included structural violence against Indigenous women and girls and two spirit folks, queer geographies and queer temporalities, and resource extraction industries and their impacts on femme, queer, and racialized bodies. 

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